The common talking points have A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, and Andrew Hawkins locked into the 53-man roster. Let me quickly apologize for burying that obvious declaration into the short-term memory lobe of your brain, but we need to re-set the table.
Traditional roster breakdowns suggests that the Bengals will keep six, forcing the remaining receivers to joust for two vacancies at the bottom of the roster. And if we're chatting realistically, the competition boils down to four players.
Brandon Tate, a decent receiver that's heavily involved in the team's return game, could be locked into the roster depending on Adam Jones' assault charge from earlier this offseason. Disagree with that point if you must; but it makes it no less realistic. Cobi Hamilton, Ryan Whalen, and the emerging Dane Sanzenbacher are adding punch to the gladiator-like battle that will take place over the next three weeks.
Alright. The table is set. Now let's go outside the box for a moment.
WHY THE BENGALS COULD TAKE SEVEN WRs
When final cuts were announced last year, the team unexpectedly kept seven receivers because they couldn't come to terms with releasing Ryan Whalen.
"Last year, Ryan Whalen made the football team by what he did in the preseason and we ended up keeping an extra wide receiver than we thought likely," Lewis told reporters two weeks ago. "That’s a great thing and that’s what you want to have. You want to have guys make the football team by producing."
If Cincinnati keeps seven receivers, figure that Tate is locked down, with the final two spots going to the winner between Whalen, Hamilton and Sanzenbacher.
Because the roster is loaded with talent elsewhere, this team will be forced to cut talented players that will likely find their way onto another team. That's the football life that as fans, we're only experiencing for the first time in such bulk display. We're not sure if the team will find value with a seventh receiver, as opposed to a tenth defensive back or a third tight end. But a position has to be reduced from the traditional breakdowns to free a spot for a seventh receiver.
And let's not be fooled into believing that a seventh receiver is only a contributor on offense. Players not viewed as starters will be asked to play special teams, and Whalen has limited exposure there (he played on special teams in only five of the nine games he played). On the other hand, along with having the most snaps of any wide receiver against the Falcons, Whalen added another 10 snaps on special teams (tied with Dan Herron with the most from the offense). And to stick with the Bengals, we're fairly certain that Whalen will do whatever is asked.
ANDREWS HAWKINS COULD GO ON IR
We're not sure about the seriousness of Hawkins' ankle injury right now. More will be known this weekend, and hopefully a time frame for his eventual return will be generically established (we're not naive enough to think that a specific ETR can be determined right now). If the injury is serious enough, Hawkins could be placed on Injured Reserve with a designation to return. This will keep Hawkins off the 53-man roster for at least eight weeks, and longer until he's ready to re-join the offense.
Along with allowing Hawkins to rehabilitate his ankle on his own terms, the placement on IR opens a spot on the 53-man roster. Figure now that Green, Sanu, Jones are your locks, with Tate, Whalen, Sanzenbacher, and Hamilton fighting for the final three spots.
Naturally, and realistically, Whalen and Tate have the experience and production that they'll be a favorite no matter what scenarios we envision. Sanzenbacher is making a point right now, but one half of a single preseason game is nothing compared to the two seasons that Whalen and Tate have within this system and with this coaching staff -- who tend to go conservative with what they know.
HAWKINS TO IR, BENGALS KEEP SEVEN
Yikes. Very unlikely scenario because one now has to ask; would that seventh receiver be a downgrade for a spot elsewhere? What about the production being established from linebacker J.K. Schaffer? How about the defensive secondary, full backs, and the offensive line?
For the sake of completeness, if the Bengals place Hawkins on IR and keep seven receivers, then decisions aren't necessary. Your wide receiver roster would be Green, Sanu, Jones, Whalen, Sanzenbacher, Hamilton, and Tate.
Obviously determining the 53-man roster right now is conversation fodder. There's three preseason games remaining, along with all of the practices in between that have as much, if not more, value.